I am still struggling somewhat with this concept of the literary novel. I tend to agree with the Provocative Cynic that it is more about style and language than actual content. I have been doing some research this week about media book clubs (like Oprah and Richard and Judy) and was slightly stunned to read what Amanda Ross had to say about Monica Ali's Brick Lane. She considers this to be a literary novel and says "There's only one book I regret choosing for the show, Brick Lane by Monica Ali. i only put it on because I thought it would make the list look broad, but have you actually read it? It makes you want to give up after 40 pages."(Hattersly, G. 'She's Choosing Your Books', Sunday Times, 13/08/06)
I can't help wondering if Miss Ross is a bit dim and why is the multi cultural book still only on her list as a token choice when there are so many great and popular books about other cultures out there? Well I have read Brick Lane, I read it last year and I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was one of those books that once I got into it I couldn't put down. Which probably explains why it was so popular, but I wouldn't necessarily have flagged it up as a literary novel - perhaps because I found it easy to read. It is easily more accessible than Nabakov's Speak, Memory or anything by Salman Rushdie.
What is does do is give a fascinating glimpse into other peoples lives - specifically that of a young bride brought to London from Bangladseh for an arranged marriage. Maybe the characters in the book are too hard for Amanda Ross to relate to but I loved this book exactly because it gave me a window into a world that I have no personal experience of. I think that is why books about other cultures are so fascinating, they allow you to become part of a different world for a short time. When I was younger I loved the work of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for this reason and recently I have really enjoyed books like Brick Lane, The Bookseller of Khabul and The Kite Runner.
What I find slightly worrying is that according to the British Press Amanda Ross has a huge amount of sway over British publishers, influencing release dates and covers and a slot on the show can make or break a book. My question is should one person have so much influence over the nations reading habits?
"I suppose it's a bit odd for the most powerful person in publishing to admit this," she laughs, "but I really don't know anything about books at all."
"(Hattersly, G. 'She's Choosing Your Books', Sunday Times, 13/08/06)
You can read the full article here.